Can you innovate even if you wanted to?

Hi, I’m the founder of a UK based agency that is trying to help companies innovate. Harder than it sounds.

We are focused on future-proofing business in the face of change. Change at a rate never experienced before: technological, cultural, environmental. Without a plan that anticipates emerging technology, cultural shifts and working practices you run the risk of being displaced from your own market.

We believe that every company needs a strategy that puts innovation at the core of the company; not as a sub heading under ‘Marketing’, but the fundamental heart of everything it does.

This is a blog we published recently just to get our Medium adventure started. We hope you like it and that it begins to beg a few questions.

Can you innovate even if you wanted to?

Clayton Christensen is the father of disruptive innovation and design thinking. He’s so central to the concept that you can listen to a summarised version of his works on your daily commute, thanks to Audible. Truly the modern-day mark of a guru.

In The Innovator’s Dilemma, Christensen says that successful companies are formed of resources, processes and values. The human resources take material resources and convert them, through processes, to products that meet the company’s business model or cost structure. So long as the values are properly ingrained across the organisation, the processes will be consistently developed to their maximum efficiency — i.e. to continue making the same things as profitably as possible.

If you introduce a disruptively innovative idea to this system, where the profit margin is below the established minimum, the processes are unlikely to be altered to accommodate its development. Regardless of whether there is a clear market demand for ‘new’, and despite the fact that it might be the company’s long-term salvation, the idea won’t fly. Anyone thinking Kodak, Blockbuster..?

Sodastream recently called out Coca-Cola for producing 100 billion single-use plastic bottles every year. Count them — 100 billion. And that’s just one company.

Asking the 1970s consumer if single-use plastic was a good idea would have got you a very different answer from today. Back then, plastic pollution wasn’t omnipresent and the concept of peak oil production was unthinkable.

Today’s consumers are much more aware. You can’t go anywhere on the planet without tripping over discarded plastic and the Pacific Gyre is a real thing. But will companies like Coca-Cola change?

This month’s issue of the UK’s Packaging News features a piece by the Chairman of National Flexible Ltd, a UK-based plastics distribution company. Titled Plastic packs need a friend — the retailers, it insists, “Anyone with any common sense knows the only problem with plastic waste. It’s the morons who throw it away.” Here’s the mindset that makes innovation difficult for design thinkers with emerging alternatives to single-use plastics.

Repeatability drives efficiency. The process drives the value of ‘this is what we do, let’s keep doing it.’ Let’s not. Let’s begin to be different.

Innovation justified. It’s what we do.